Regional Merry-Go-Round – While Key Issues Continue to Dog Lebanon’s Government in Formation, End to Syria’s Civil War in Sight

The muddle called the Middle East gets murkier

It has long been said somewhat cynically that Lebanon’s raison d’etre is to serve as the proxy battlefield for everything in contention in the region and beyond. Certainly, contemporary events bear that out as PM Saad Hariri struggles to build consensus around a new government and ministerial statement while regional players continue to shuffle the policy cards to determine what’s next on their agendas.

Distinctions between the players’ existential concerns and their dominate current interests are muddled at best. The Assad regime draws closer to its immediate goal of restoring its punishing control over Syria; Iran seeks to strengthen its regional role despite rising domestic opposition; Turkey is…well Turkey; Russia and Israel look to their interests with fervor; and the Syrian refugees await their fate.

Here’s a quick summary of several current events that are adding to the continued uncertainty despite the latest battlefield outcomes in Syria, a small détente between Israel and Syrian government forces near its borders, Syrian refugees moving in larger numbers back home, and Hezbollah’s quest for meaning after Syria.

Lebanon-Syria relations, always contentious, seem to be the chicken bone in the throat of PR Hariri. Despite prodding from Speaker Nabih Berri, pro-Syrian members of Parliament, Gebran Bassil, the acting Foreign Minister and son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, and others, the PM is standing his ground that the ministerial statement, which outlines the new government’s priorities, will not address restarting formal relations with Syria. Can he hold out? There’s no immediate consensus as there are other MPs supporting the PM. Proponents of the move argue that the step is needed to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees, re-open border crossings to allow goods to transit to export markets to Lebanon’s neighbors, and potentially give Lebanon a piece of the Syrian reconstruction pie.

Syria meanwhile seems to be holding refugee repatriation hostage to resuming relations. Over the past two weeks, a number of statements have come from Syrian sources, as well as its friends in Lebanon, that formal relations are the key to accelerating recent repatriation actions. It is worth noting that despite allegations that the Assad regime has a list of a million or so unwanted returnees, it also craves to be recognized as a legitimate government that can manage the resettlement process.

The reality though may be much different, and Russia has already indicating that it will play a key role as well so that it can task the international community with the cost of reconstruction in exchange for pressuring Syria to work with Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey on refugee issues. So, as reported by Refugees Deeply,Russia and Syria are seeking bilateral agreements to begin mass returns. This could be disastrous given that the Syrian government and its allies lack the capacity and perhaps the will to enable refugees to return safely and reintegrate into the country.”

The UNHCR is directly bound up in this quagmire as it serves as the mediating body for the international community on refugee affairs. It has outlined its criteria for conditions required to move ahead with large-scale voluntary repatriations in cooperation with the Syrian government. To date, however, the regime has imposed restrictions on UNHCR activities in Syria, which could leave returnees without adequate aid and exposed to more danger.

While some analysts believe that Russia and the US are winding down their roles in Syria, Israel is exerting greater efforts to ensure that Iran and its proxy Hezbollah do not become an even greater security threat. Israel is concerned with Iran’s role in the region, especially the increasing stocks of various grades and types of Iranian-supplied missiles in Lebanon and Syria; thus its insistence on Iran’s withdrawal from all of Syria. As Stratfor notes, “On the diplomatic front, Israel has focused its approach on the United States and Russia, striving to convince the two superpowers to heed its interests in Syria by containing and limiting Iran’s influence and presence in the country.”

What’s in the cards for Hezbollah’s hands in Syria and Lebanon is a subject of much speculation. Will it return to its traditional role as a political-military state within a state in Lebanon? Will it maintain a presence in Syria to enable Iran to continue to have a pressure point on Israel? Will it maintain an aggressive posture towards Israel so that Israel leans on Russia and the US to exercise what little leverage they have over the Iran-Hezbollah axis to keep tensions from boiling over?

If it remains in Syria, deployed in areas under its control, it is hard to imagine that, despite its alliance with Assad, the Syrian regime will allow it to exercise the same freedom it has in Lebanon. According to an article in, “There is no withdrawal for now, only redeployments of troops in the various areas,” said one source. “If the situation stabilizes definitely, Hezbollah would pull out from certain regions, but there are areas it considers strategic that it will never leave.”

Nicholas Blanford, longtime journalist based in Beirut, describes the link between Hezbollah’s presence in Syria and Iran’s regional game plan. “Iran will play the long game in southwest Syria by relying either on Hezbollah or Iraqi militant groups. Tehran will also want to extend what Hezbollah has on its Lebanese frontier with Israel, to the Golan, and leverage southwest Syria in its confrontation with Israel in the long run. Iran is trying to shape its strategic interests in Syria as time passes by, to maintain its land bridge there against Israel.”

Ironically, Russia, which, it can be argued, saved the Assad regime, seems to risk a diminishing influence on Iran and Syria as it draws down its military role in the region. Having gained basing rights in Syria, the acknowledgement of all the local players that it is the top player in the region, and with its finger on any eventual peace and reconstruction effort, it is loath to act against Iran in Syria. As Blanford noted, “Israel and the US seem hopeful that Russia will serve as a block to Iranian ambitions in Syria, but this could be wishful thinking.”

So is the other great power, the US, still searching for a regional strategy? It appears that the Trump Administration has conceded that the war in Syria is now at a stage where the US should move on to focus on a formal end to the civil war and reconstruction. Jim Jeffrey, former US Ambassador to Turkey and Iraq, a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), who served as the principal DAS for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department, and deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush, has been appointed as Representative for Syrian Engagement by Secretary Pompeo. His job is to run US negotiations with other regional players over Syria’s future.

He has extensive experience in the region that should serve him well. As Ambassador to Iraq, he opposed the US withdrawal from the country under the Obama Administration, arguing that without a tangible presence in country that Iran’s influence would prevail. So he has no illusions about Iran’s regional ambitions.

One of his first challenges is to ensure that the latest deal made by the Administration, to have others pay for Syria’s stabilization fund, is carried out effectively. In announcing the US cut of its commitment of $230 million in stabilization assistance, the State Department pointed out that the Gulf States and others have agreed to fund the program. Stabilization aid is intended to provide basic services that allow Syrian residents to return to their homes and some semblance of normal life after a devastating seven-year civil war. reported that the “US has elicited approximately $300 million in contributions and pledges from coalition partners to support critical stabilization and early recovery initiatives in areas liberated from [the Islamic State (IS)] in northeast Syria, including a generous contribution of $100 million by Saudi Arabia and $50 million pledged by the United Arab Emirates.” Other commitments have been made by Kuwait, France, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Norway, the European Union, Australia. and Taiwan.

At the same time, a post noted that The US has also made it clear that “There will be no global reconstruction funding for Syria until a ‘credible and irreversible’ political process led by the United Nations is underway.” The State Department emphasized that “We will continue to provide life-saving, needs-based humanitarian assistance to vulnerable Syrians, support for the White Helmets and the UN’s International Impartial and Independent Mechanism to hold the [Syrian President Bashar] Assad regime accountable for serious crimes, as well as equipment and other measures to counter the effects of chemical weapons in northwest Syria.”

The spokesperson, Heather Nauert, explained that the decision “does not represent any lessening of US commitment to its strategic goals in Syria.” Which again raises the earlier question, does the US have a viable regional strategy that represents its long-term interests in the region?



World Refugee Day Challenges Our Humanitarian Sensibilities

While I have often expressed my thoughts about the Syrian, Palestinian, and Iraqi refugees in Lebanon, even including the burdens carried by Jordan and Palestine, it is only a starting point for recognizing the awful global conditions of refugees, internally displaced peoples, undocumented migrants, and stateless people that live in all corners of the globe.

You have heard the numbers and they are all horrific, no matter how your rationalize them. For example, The Guardian published a list of the 34,351 people known to have died trying to reach Europe since the early 1990s. Ironically, according to, The UN defines a refugee as “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence.” As of May, an estimated 25.4 million refugees around the globe have fled their homes to escape violence and persecution.

Yet the day is not for mourning, as notes, “It’s a day that the United Nations created to celebrate the resilience and courage of refugees and their contributions to society.” That is small comfort to the tens of millions of refugees, many fleeing persecution because of ethnic, religion, tribal, or other confrontations over identity.

More facts from the same story. By the end of last year, according to a recent UNHCR report, there were 68.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world, including 25.4 million refugees. The number also includes about 40 million internally displaced people — people who were forced to leave their homes but are still in their home countries — and 3.1 million asylum seekers, or people who have applied for refugee status but are waiting for approval.

2017 was the sixth consecutive year that the number of forcibly displaced people in the world surpassed peak World War II levels, and this year’s reports indicate that that number is probably going to keep going up. The majority of refugees right now are from Syria, where 6.3 million people have fled their country to escape the ongoing conflict there. European countries have also taken in asylum seekers from several other countries, like Iraq and Afghanistan.

So how is it possible to celebrate resilience and courage when refugees face separation from their families, may be interred in inhospitable facilities, and deprived of basic services and support? It is more an observance of the survival instincts of the human condition, both for the refugees and for their host communities when they open their homes and share their resources with strangers.

So while the Lebanese, Turks, Jordanians, Malays, Colombians, Ugandans, Pakistanis, and others are bearing the burdens of those less fortunate, the US and Europe, most recently Italy, are responding by shutting down their borders. Here’s a snapshot worth pondering: Last September, the US dropped the refugee cap, which is the maximum number of refugees from anywhere to the US to just 45,000 people, the lowest number in years. And even though Syrians are the largest group of people fleeing conflict right now, from January to April of this year the US reportedly only accepted 11 Syrian refugees.

World Refugee Day should be an observance of communities like Rochester, Minnesota, Portland, Maine, and Oakland, California, which have opened their hearts and cities to refugees and are benefiting from having inclusive and empowering populations driving sustainable economic growth. So, let’s salute those host communities, international and local agencies, and refugees in Lebanon and elsewhere who are facing the challenges of re-making their lives under very difficult conditions. And let’s continue to encourage the US and the international donor community to expand their humanitarian assistance to those in need.


What Was Said and What was Meant…Putin and Trump on Syria

While reading through the transcript of the joint press conference of Presidents Trump and Putin in Helsinki, there are many statements that have drawn the ire of analysts in Washington and elsewhere. But there are statements about the Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey that bear closer scrutiny for what they say and imply, and how the novel definition of Trump “realism,” which stresses partnership with the Russian leader, can contribute to solving the dilemma of refugee repatriation.

For example, President Putin noted that “As far as Syria is concerned, the task of establishing peace and reconciliation in this country could be the first showcase example of this successful joint work.” He believes that “Russia and the United States apparently can act proactively and take leadership on this issue and organize the interaction to overcome humanitarian crisis and help Syrian refugees to go back to their homes. In order to accomplish this level of successful cooperation in Syria, we have all the required components.”

As a commentator in The Hill noted on July 17th, “Trump suggested that the U.S. and Russia could work together to bring humanitarian relief to Syrians displaced by their country’s civil war. But Putin is propping up Syrian leader Bashar Assad, who uses chemical weapons against his own people in an effort to stay in power. The Syrian civil war, now in its eighth year, is at the root of a refugee crisis about which both leaders professed concerns without mentioning Assad.”

So it is fair to ask what was said and is there any reason to draw positive inferences from their words? Looked at in a regional context, Trump suggested that protecting Israel was the key priority, to keep it safe by reducing instability caused by the refugee crisis. “As we discussed at length, the crisis in Syria is a complex one.” He added, “Cooperation between our two countries has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives.” He referenced Russia’s growing ties with Israel, “But I think that their [Russia] working with Israel is a great thing and creating safety for Israel is something that both President Putin and I would like to see very much,” without as much as a whisper about the security and stability of Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.

How this continues to strengthen Russia’s hands as the reigning great power in the region was not referenced, so is the US preparing to turn the region’s future over to some vague partnership that Russia leads and the US follows?

In response to a question, Trump singled out humanitarian concerns without noting how the host countries are being affected. “One little thing I might add to that is the helping of people. Helping of people. Because you have such horrible, if you see and I’ve seen reports and I’ve seen pictures, I’ve seen just about everything. And if we can do something to help the people of Syria get back into some form of shelter and on a humanitarian basis, and that’s what the word was really a humanitarian basis. I think that both of us would be very interested in doing that and we are. We will do that.”

In response to the same question President Putin said, “We did mention this. We mentioned the humanitarian track of this issue. Yesterday, I discussed this with French president Mr. Macron and we reached an agreement that together with European countries, including France, will step up this effort. On our behalf, we’ll provide military cargo aircraft to deliver the humanitarian cargo and today I brought up this issue with President Trump. I think there are plenty of things to look into. The crucial thing here is that huge amount of refugees are in Turkey, in Lebanon, in Jordan in the states that border adjacent to Syria. If we help them, the migratory pressure upon the European states will drop, will be decreased many fold.”

Putin went on “And I believe it’s crucial from any point of view, from humanitarian point of view, from the point of view of helping people, helping the refugees and in general I agree, I concur with President Trump our military cooperate quite successfully together. They do get along and I hope they will be able to do so in future.”

So what these responses mean in practical terms will unfold in the coming weeks. Humanitarian assistance promised by the EU and facilitated by Russia underscores its leadership on this crisis. Putin made reference to the Astana Process, which includes Iran and Turkey, as a key coordinator of policy initiatives regarding Syria, further reinforcing its primacy on the Syria issue. And the implication is that this is likely what Trump supports: withdrawing US presence in Syria, supporting an Israeli-friendly peace process with Palestine, and gradual political and military disengagement from the region.

Whether or not this will serve America’s interests in the long-run is a vexing dilemma. After 70 tough years of our diplomatic, military, economic, and humanitarian investments in the Middle East, Trump seems to believe that disengagement is the way forward. Russia agrees…



The future of Syrian refugees – a vexing issue affecting government formation in Lebanon

With the election process almost completed, awaiting several challenges lodged with the Electoral Commission, Lebanon’s power brokers are moving ahead with crafting a new government within the framework of the power-sharing agreement. Since the total number of members allocated by sect is already set, the negotiations focus on three primary concerns: balancing the election results within alliances that represent the dominant parties, allocating ministerial portfolios along sectarian lines, and ensuring that the members support a ministerial statement outlining government priorities and policies.

From outside Lebanon, the view is that there are three overarching issues to be addressed: corruption, Hezbollah’s military role, and the future of the Syrian refugees. While this does not ignore the close to a half-million Palestinian refugees, border demarcation with Israel, or dissociation, meaning staying out of regional frays, it highlights the reality that international donors are insisting on a link between further funding and accountability, and that regional stability depends on Hezbollah acting less as a proxy for Iran and more as a key Lebanese political force.

With regard to the Syrian refugees, it is acknowledged that there is no game plan in the works without a political settlement in Syria, which increasingly favors the Assad regime staying in power and extending its reach into all parts of the country. This could take years, and Prime Minister Hariri has recognized the conundrum for Lebanon in statements made earlier this year. “We want the refugees to live in a dignified way, to take their children to school and to have this generation of Syrians return to rebuild their country.” Stressing that Lebanon would abide by international law, Hariri said that refugees would only return “once favorable conditions are available.”

In his statements, President Aoun as recently as this week, made it clear that he is not prepared to wait for a political settlement. “We are surprised by the position of some parties which obstruct this return or do not encourage it. Lebanon faces many challenges with 1.8 million displaced people on its territory since 2015,” he said. He believes that nearly 50 per cent of Lebanon’s population is made up of refugees if you count Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis, and others. He made some of his strongest rebuttals in response to the position taken by the EU and UN at the Brussels donors conference to gather for the refugees.

He rejected their position that the host countries must do more to assist in providing jobs, services, and future opportunities for the Syrians. Aoun pointed out that there are safe areas inside Syria where refugees can return safely, noting that Lebanon is doing as much as it can and should not be asked to do more.

Even the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon, Philippe Lazarini, warned that Lebanese society is witnessing “increasing fatigue” as a result of the refugee crisis. He highlighted that such concern may turn into anger and tension between different segments of society, amid great pressures on employment opportunities, if not addressed by the government. Aoun clarified his earlier comments, noting that he was not including people who faced political problems with the Assad regime.

Two recent studies help frame the challenges in devising “return with dignity” scenarios. There is a 2017 UN data report indicating that more than 75% of Syrian refugees live below the poverty line and are unregistered so that they are unable to legally access the labor market and are often exploited in the informal economy, living on humanitarian aid, under the threat of arrest and hostility from host communities.

Refugees have also had a disproportionate negative impact on the host communities. The same study pointed out that most Syrian refugees have settled in Lebanon’s most marginalized regions, placing them in direct competition for access to work, public services, and resources with vulnerable Lebanese communities. There have even been claims that the influx of refugees is often cited as a reason for Lebanon’s stagnating economy.

This same survey showed that 70% of Syrian refugees would go home if they felt there was somewhere safe for them to return to.

This sentiment was echoed in a more recent study, found here, by the Carnegie Middle East Center that outlined four conditions that refugees surveyed indicated were essential to return. They are safety for their children, an end to conscription, physical homes to return to, and a safe and secure environment.

The study noted World Bank estimates that 30% of Syrian homes have been completely destroyed or damaged. Many undamaged properties are occupied by regime-affiliated forces, pro-Iran militias, or other Syrians displaced within the country.

Of the refugees interviewed, 80% had fled Syria due to incidents that stoked fear for their safety including arbitrary arrests by Syrian forces, the death of family or friends, and the deterioration in security conditions in their neighborhoods. A great majority could not see Syria stabilizing under the Assad regime. “Even if jobs and services were available, few believed the security and stability they want would exist if he remained in power.” Additional concerns were raised about the foreign forces in the country and the interference of outside powers determining Syria’s future.

Interestingly, an informal group of Syrian refugees in the north of Lebanon have drafted a peace proposal around establishing safe demilitarized zones in Syria that would allow for the return of refugees and displaced persons. They too want safety and security as the first conditions to return, with access to basic services and employment opportunities also as key. But they too recognized that “We know that such a solution today seems too far-fetched and unrealistic. With the recent sieges and bombings continuing in Syria, it is difficult for anyone to speak of return. For today the proposal is impossible, but one day the violence will lessen.”

For generations, Lebanon has been a safe haven for dispossessed people of the region despite its limited resources and governmental infrastructure. What the new government will say about its Syrian refugee policy will indicate how much further Lebanon is willing to go to support its good neighbor policy.

2018 Starts Off Much Like 2017 – Garbage, Mending Fences, and Syrian Refugees Top Agenda

An ill-wind brought trash to beaches north of Beirut that once was part of a landfill
near the town of Jiyyeh. A major storm washed the garbage out to sea and then
returned it to cover Zouq Mosbeh beach. Members of Parliament are crying foul and
condemning a system that has been broken for years, causing the 2015 garbage
crisis, and subsiding only with promises from the government that have yet to be
implemented. The waste management issue is still before the government and
perhaps this latest round of trash terror will bring about some sustainable results.

Aoun visit to the Gulf

President Michel Aoun made his first trip to the Gulf as the head of state, visiting
“brotherly” Kuwait, discussing economic support and cementing agreements on
several issues. According to various sources, President Aoun had very productive
meetings and was accompanied by Gebran Bassil, Jamal Jarrah, Ayman Choukair,
Inaya Ezzeddine, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, and Abdul-al Al-Qena’i, Lebanon’s
representative in Kuwait.

The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah announced that the Kuwait
Fund for Arab Economic Development would issue an aid package “in support of
Lebanon” aimed at enhancing the country’s economy. Kuwait’s support is key both
for Lebanon’s economic development and also dealing with the Syrian refugee

Since PM Hariri’s resignation last year forced an earlier planned visit to be
postponed, Aoun’s visit is seen as important to rebuild Lebanon’s relationship with
Kuwait. The emirate has attempted its own “dissociation” policy on several regional
concerns such as Qatar and the Saudi Arabia-Lebanon tension around Hezbollah,
which it has accused of setting up a terror cell in Kuwait.

News reports mentioned that “The two leaders agreed on the need for a unified
Arab stance “in the face of Arab and regional developments because the unity of
Arabs is primary in this case.” Both Aoun and Sabah reiterated condemnation of the
recent US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Aoun also
lamented what he said was the United Nation’s inability to enforce its decisions.

Aoun asked Emir Al-Sabah to participate in the three upcoming conferences on
Lebanon in Rome, Paris, and Brussels to deal with refugees, security, and the
refugee situation in Lebanon. Kuwait’s emir believes his country’s current
membership of the UN Security Council “can help highlight the rightness of Arab


Refugees weathering a difficult winter with various press stories recounting
deaths due to freezing, limited or no adequate shelter from the snow and cold
temperatures, with worse weather expected in the Beqaa Valley and elsewhere.
Many refugees have gone through this before, some who fled to Lebanon as long as
six years ago.

Being better prepared carries its own drawback since the bulk of the housing
supplies goes to those who are most in need. Recently, a shipment of stoves
arrived from the UAE but with at least a million Syrian refugees in need, it’s a small
comfort for those who are not at the distribution sites.

With limited assistance from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),
access to medical supplies and cash subsidies are also in short supply, going to the
most vulnerable. But the UNHCR is not slowing down its efforts. It distributed cash
assistance of between $225-375 to families totaling some 780,000 people in
November, although the program is not guaranteed to continue through the winter

From Here to Where and Mostly not There Yet

From time to time, pundits in and outside the Arab world take on momentous themes and begin the process of analyzing, synthesizing, and opining so thoroughly that readers may begin to believe that these issues resonate with Arab masses. Such is the recent imbroglio about the legacy of the Sykes-Picot agreement.

I’m in Jordan, having just passed through National Independence Day, the 100th Anniversary of the Great Arab Revolt, the anniversary of King Abdullah’s coronation, the dissolution of the Lower House of Parliament and upcoming elections, and several notable birthdays. There is little or no public interest in discussing Sykes-Picot even though it is in many ways directly linked to Sherif Hussein bin Ali’s move to overthrow Ottoman rule. What is on their minds is the same agenda since the Arab Uprisings emerged in late 2010 – economic opportunity, personal dignity enshrined in human and civil rights protections, government and private sector accountability, and derivatives from these core issues.

As my friend Rami Khouri has argued, there is plenty of blame to go around as to why the Arab world, which once had once of the highest education rates in the developing world, has gone astray in terms of its human, social, and economic development. He writes, “So by all means let us recall Sykes-Picot and its consequent tumultuous century, but let us also summon honesty and integrity in analyzing all the regional and global factors that have led to today’s horror shows of stunted, staggered and shattered Arab statehood. We did this to ourselves, to be sure, but not only by ourselves; we had considerable assistance from many others in the region and the world. This was one of the world’s first global joint ventures in deviant political behavior.”

I have talked to dozens of people here about “who to blame” for the current state of disarray. Beyond half-hearted references to the Israel-Palestine conflict, respondents mentioned economic issues, transparency in public and private sector transactions, and political accountability as the common obstacles that eroding Arab countries today…themes consistent with the Arab Uprisings. Regardless of their positions on Syrian refugees, a very complex topic in Jordan, the bottom line is that Arabs I spoke with from Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, and Jordan look at the governance in their countries and the region as sources of the most significant obstacles to development.

Their responses varied from a country’s inability to stand up to external pressures, inability to agree on internal priorities in a consistent program, weak institutions, meddling by neighboring troublemakers that siphons off needed domestic investments, weak and corrupt government institutions that should protect citizens, to the deeply held feelings that nothing can be done anyway.

jordan flagJordan is a test case worth assessing. With its access to its Syrian and Iraqi markets greatly diminished by road closures caused by Daesh, Jordan is suffering mightily. Saudi Arabia has negotiated a new investment agreement and there are ongoing negotiations with the EU that could boost exports. But months are passing, refugee numbers are increasing, personal savings are dwindling, and costs are building across the board. Citizens are troubled by the opaqueness of their futures as the economic situation continues to decline and political solutions seem like more words on paper. International donors are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into Jordan but the lower and middle socio-economic classes do not have a sense that prosperity is any nearer. Much of the funding is directed toward increasing employment for Jordanians and Syrian refugees but any significant change in the next year is elusive.

Without open borders and greater market access, significant direct foreign and national investments in Jordan will not find opportunities for projects to generate the hundreds of thousands of jobs needed in the coming years. Looking across the region, a similar profile emerges – lack of stability in Lebanon, reduced growth expectations in the GCC and Algeria, continuing security pressures on Tunisia and Morocco, and Egypt’s reluctance to open public space to competition in business and ideas, not to mention chaos in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, make the glimmer of a silver lining even more remote.

None of these conditions can be attributed either directly or indirectly to the false legacy of Sykes-Picot. Without a new social contract among a country’s citizens and with their governments, one based on mutual respect and shared commitments to resolve common challenges, prospects will remain difficult to divine, even as the pundits continue to blame others for the Arab present.


[Photo property of]

Morocco Extends Humanitarian Aid and Support to Syrian Refugees

More than 900 Syrians have registered in Morocco as asylum seekers

The continuing tragedy of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria extends across North Africa where hundreds have fled, often via human traffickers, to uncertain futures. According to a story in Al Jazeera last week, the number of 900 registered refugees “does not represent all the Syrian refugees in Morocco.”

In line with its new law regarding the treatment of illegal immigrants, Morocco has stepped up its efforts to provide them temporary group protection by working with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to register the refugees and shield them from detention, “even if they have entered or are staying on Moroccan soil illegally,” according to Marc Fawe, a spokesperson for UNHCR-Morocco.

Most of the refugees either come by boat or over land to Algeria, where they are left to their own devices to survive. One of the refugees explained that she had to leave Algeria due to the difficulty of establishing residency. “We could not stay on Algerian soil more than three months, and to stay longer, we had to leave the country and [come] back again.”

Syrian refugees access services in Morocco

Syrian refugees access services in Morocco

Their situation in Morocco is quite different as the country has recently adopted two ground-breaking laws regarding residency procedures for immigrants and means by which they can be integrated into Moroccan society. As reported in Magharebia, “The new initiative goes beyond residence permits; it provides newcomers with the means to assimilate into Moroccan society.” According to Migration Affairs Minister Anis Birou, “The policy comprises several strands, including the enrollment of immigrants’ children in schools, job training for adults, access to healthcare and learning darija. The aim is to equip migrants with all the tools they need to live peacefully as part of Moroccan society. Morocco must be an example in this respect.”

Aside from the global concern for the close to 4 million Syrian refugees worldwide from the current conflict, Moroccan citizens have also welcomed the practical and local impact of the policy. As a teacher in Rabat noted, the policy is part of efforts to respect human rights. She said to Magharebia, “Although their status is illegal, immigrants must have access to basic rights such as healthcare. I think no one can disagree with this strategy, which will enable thousands of people to live a dignified life in society, without fear or humiliation.”

Morocco’s position on the refugees reflects yet another progressive step in its comprehensive efforts to advance human rights throughout the country and North Africa.